Friday, August 23, 2013

The Young Immigrunts

Ring Lardner (1885–1933)
From Ring Lardner: Stories & Other Writings

“The Bride and Glum,” one of a number of illustrations
by Gaar Williams for The Young Immigrunts (1920).
In 1919 Daisy Ashford, a woman living in England, unearthed the manuscript of a novella she had written thirty years earlier, when she was just nine years old. Ashford managed to find a publisher for her precocious Victorian society novel (à la Thackeray) and it appeared, misspellings and malapropisms intact, as The Young Visiters, or Mr. Salteena’s Plan. The book became an instant, phenomenal best-seller on both sides of the Atlantic. Recently The Paris Review’s Alice Bolin came across the book and discussed how, a century ago, “readers regarded it as a remarkable specimen of children’s grand and unselfconscious ridiculousness.”

Although the novel’s provenance has been fairly well verified, many skeptics initially questioned its authorship, with some critics believing that it had actually been written by Peter Pan author J. M. Barrie (who contributed a preface for the book when it was first published). Ring Lardner was among those who doubted that Ashford had written the novel as a nine-year-old (or at all). In a 1925 letter, when asked to review The Prince of Washington Square (by nineteen-year-old Harry Liscomb), he similarly doubted the claims for its authorship, adding, “I didn’t, and I don’t, believe Daisy Ashford in spite of [English novelist Frank] Swinnerton’s testimony and that of other ‘witnesses.’ ”

In any case, Lardner had thought that Ashford’s book was ripe for parody. And so in 1920 he published The Young Immigrunts, under the name of Lardner’s four-year-old son, “with a preface by the father.” The book chronicles the Lardner family’s move from Goshen, Indiana, to their new home in Greenwich, Connecticut. The spoof first appeared first in The Saturday Evening Post and then as a small book later in the year. “Since The Young Visiters has vanished from whatever niche it once occupied in our literary consciousness,” notes biographer Jonathan Yardley, “it is fortunate that The Young Immigrunts is so successful purely as humor that it can be read with utter ignorance of the original.”

We recently asked Ian Frazier (who edited the just-published Library of America collection of Ring Lardner’s best work) which Lardner work was his favorite:
The Young Immigrunts! This is a magic piece of humor writing. “ ‘Shut up,’ he explained,” is as funny as it is possible to be in only four words. But every line in this story is a magic trick. The only difference between this story and what actual magicians do is that their tricks can be explained. I’ve looked at The Young Immigrunts dozens of times, always with the same mystified delight, and I still couldn’t tell you how it was done.
Below we present Lardner’s novella in its entirety, with the original illustrations by cartoonist Gaar Williams, for Story of the Week readers.

Notes: A number of sports figures (many of whom called Lardner “Old Owl Eyes” during his career as a sportswriter) are mentioned in passing or subjected to some good-natured ribbing: baseball players Rollie Ziedler, Artie Hofman (who owned a clothing store), and Elmer Flick, as well as umpire Bill Clem, football referee W. S. Langford, and University of Michigan coach Fielding Yost. In Toledo in 1919, boxer Jack Dempsey won the world heavyweight title by defeating the much larger defending champion Jess Willard.

Ossining is the home of Sing Sing Prison. John D. Rockefeller was the founder, president, and major shareholder of Socony (Standard Oil Company of New York), one of the companies established after successive break-ups of the Standard Oil Company monopoly.

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If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

This selection may be photocopied and distributed for classroom or educational use.